CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – In order to work as a professor at a college or university, a person typically needs to have some type of doctoral degree. If that same individual wanted to teach in a public school, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree would be required, though a master’s degree is often preferred.
But, if a position were to open up in a child care center, catering to infants and toddlers, the applicant would only need to be 18 years old and possess a high school diploma. Dr. Linda Sitton, director of the Tennessee Early Childhood Training Alliance at Austin Peay State University, finds that a little distressing.
“We kind of have it backwards,” she said. “We have people with Ph.D.s teaching adults, but our most qualified people should be working with our youngest population.”
According to recent research, the first three years of a person’s life are pivotal in areas of brain development, language development and self-esteem, social and emotional development.
“This is the age when the greatest amount of brain development takes place,” Sitton said. “All of those people should have Ph.D.s that work with young children.”
That goal may be a little too lofty, but Sitton’s TECTA office recently received a $325,055 grant from the state to help put more experienced professionals in child care centers.
“TECTA is a statewide professional development system for people who are employed in child care programs, to help them get the education they need to work with young children,” Sitton said. “We provide tuition assistance to pay for courses that lead to a national credential, an associate degree, bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in early childhood.”
APSU has hosted a TECTA site since 1998, and in that time, it has allowed hundreds of child care workers to earn credentials and degrees, all while fulfilling the Tennessee Department of Human Services’ required professional development hours.
“The goal has been for people to earn their annual training hours via academic coursework,” Sitton said. “So, whether they stay in the field for one year or 15 years, the longer they stay, they’ll end up with a degree whether they want it or not.”
In early 2001, Claudia Rodriguez saw a flier advertising the TECTA program’s in-service training courses. Rodriguez was at the time the director of a Christian, non-profit child care center. She had a nursing degree from Germany that didn’t mean much in Tennessee.
“I thought I needed some hours, so I just kind of jumped on board,” she said. “Our child care program became a huge success. We started creating new systems, more parent involvement, the teachers had more knowledge about redirecting children, appropriate curriculum and appropriate practices.”
The TECTA program provided Rodriguez with tuition assistance to attend these academic classes offered through Nashville State Community College. She went on to earn her associate degree in early childhood.
“To me, that was really the kicker,” she said. “I was like ‘wow, I can earn a degree. I can do this.’ All along, for these college courses, I received financial assistance. Where else can you get a college degree?”
After earning her associate degree, Rodriguez wanted to continue her education, but she didn’t have a place to go. Part of the TECTA grant’s requirement was that she had to pursue a degree in early childhood education, which APSU didn’t offer.
“There wasn’t a path for her to continue her education in this field,” Sitton said. “So I worked with the sociology department, and they have a family studies emphasis. I worked out between Nashville State and Austin Peay an articulation agreement, where this two-year degree would fully articulate from Nashville State to Austin Peay, creating an opportunity for her to get a four-year degree.”
Again, the TECTA program picked up about 85 percent of the tuition, and in August of 2008, Rodriguez graduated from APSU with a bachelor’s degree. She took a job working with the APSU TECTA site, where she now provides important training and oversight to child care centers throughout an eight-county area. And, not content to end her educational pursuits, she again used the TECTA grant to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Tennessee at Martin. She’ll graduate this August.
In 10 years, Rodriguez has become highly trained in the practices of early childhood education, and she’s using that knowledge to improve the curricula and programs offered at local child care centers.
“If we consider all the research on brain development, this is a critical time in the development of young children,” Sitton said. “If their teacher has a minimal education, you can see how critical the TECTA program is.”
For more information on the TECTA program at APSU and to find out how to apply for tuition assistance, visit the website at www.apsu.edu/tecta.